Outsider: A Short Story for Kids

INTRODUCTION

When I was three years old, my aunt bought me a Fisher-Price colour stackers set. There was a long pole and six rings of different colours, each slightly differing in size. I took pride in obsessively taking them apart, reorganizing them and stacking them back on top of each other. I spent hours every day doing the same repetitive motion. Stack the red, then green, then yellow, then blue. Take each ring off of the pole, one by one, and then restack them. Other toddlers played with these sets, but not the way that I did.

As I became older, my obsessive behaviours remained. All of the toys that I owned were arranged in a straight line in the middle of my room. All of the contents in my drawers were in perfect lines. Some might call my way of organization impractical, but to me, it made perfect sense.

My parents began to suspect OCD. At first, they thought my behaviours were normal for my age, but as they began talking to other parents, they realized that most children weren’t like me. 

Soon, their suspicions grew into concerns. They put me on the waiting list for every child psychologist in Anchorage. Each list was six months to a year long, and I don’t remember a lot about what happened when we finally got an appointment. I only remember that it ended in crying. My mother cried the whole way home as my father tried his best to comfort her. “It’s OK,” he whispered, “other children in the world have autism.”

WENDLER MIDDLE SCHOOL ROOM 36, ANCHORAGE, ALASKA 

SEPTEMBER 4TH, 2020

9:16 A.M.

Suddenly, when I step into the grade seven classroom, I’m surrounded by kids my age. Some I’ve never seen before, and others I have, but only briefly. I don’t know anyone’s name.

I realize that I’m not dressed like anyone else. Most of the girls here are wearing similar outfits: sweatshirts with brand names on them, black leggings and ponytails tied back with scrunchies. 

I’m wearing a long black trench coat that falls to my knees with black dress pants and shoes. My dark hair is braided and falls around my neck. Underneath my coat, I’m wearing a white collared shirt with a short black tie. I’m clutching a briefcase instead of a backpack. I think I look very well put together, even though I’m not wearing my full spy attire. 

When the teacher steps into the room, she tells us all to take a seat at a desk. I stay standing, swaying from side to side in the back of the room staring at a slight imperfection on the otherwise perfect white wall. 

“Chloe?” I hear the teacher say. I’d forgotten that we had previously had an encounter during the summer when my parents brought me to an open house at the junior high. I’d never been to a school before that point. I had been homeschooled my whole life. 

“Chloe?” she repeats. “Please take a seat.” I do. The teacher goes on to talk about herself and her family, but I don’t really listen. I’m distracted by the textbooks behind me. They are disorganized and untidy, so I lean over the back of my chair and stack them. The sound of a bell knocks me out of my trance and we are told to head to the gym.

So far, grade seven sucks.

WENDLER MIDDLE SCHOOL GYMNASIUM, ANCHORAGE, ALASKA 

SEPTEMBER 4TH, 2020

9:48 A.M.

I am greeted with a large room covered in brightly coloured lines. Large, orange basketball hoops tower over me and enormous volleyball nets are lined up across the room. A middle-aged muscular woman in black Nike shoes and a hoodie introduces herself as Mrs.  Haymen. Most of the class sits down on the waxy and scuffed hardwood gym floor. Others, who seem to think they are superior to the rest of their classmates, sit on the bench with the teacher until Mrs. Haymen tells them to get off.

“Good morning, 7-B,” she declares with confidence. “Today we are playing volleyball.” 

I am met with a collection of different reactions. They are mostly cheers and sounds of delight. 

I have never played volleyball before, so I stay silent. 

“OK class, get into teams of four and pick a court.” I stand up but linger in the same area. No one comes over to where I’m standing and I feel too uncomfortable to ask to join someone’s team. I sway from side to side, stare at the ground and don’t dare to look up.

“Excuse me?” someone says to me. At first, I think it’s someone asking me to join their team. But I realize it’s Mrs. Haymen. “You’ll be with that team at the front.” I wander over there and notice that they don’t seem to be speaking to each other. I guess these are the other kids that don’t have friends in this class.

“Could we play spy tag instead?” I inquire. I learned this game at spy camp this summer.

“Sorry,” Mrs. Haymen replies, “I’m afraid we don’t tend to play tag games in middle school.”

Our team awkwardly walks over to a random court and the other team serves. We continuously miss serves until the score is 47-1 and the bell sounds again. It’s time for break.

I’ve decided that I hate gym.

WENDLER MIDDLE SCHOOL HALLWAY, ANCHORAGE, ALASKA 

SEPTEMBER 4TH, 2020

10:46 A.M.

I used to do a bit of schoolwork every day at home, but not a lot. I got bored easily and needed a lot of breaks. 

What did I spend my time doing? Spying.  

I have a bit of an obsession. My closet is entirely dedicated to spy-like attire. I’ve seen almost every spy movie that exists. I find conversations about anything else dull and uninteresting. Spying is all that I want to talk about.

Naturally, I spend the ten-minute break that occurs at exactly 10:46 spying on fellow classmates.

I observe that one girl is surrounded by a large cluster of other kids. I hear laughter and giggling.  Casually, I pace the area near them so I can listen in to their conversation. 

“You know that girl that joined our class this year?” whispers the girl who seems to be the centre of attention. “I think she’s got Asperger’s or something.”

“Yeah! I think you’re right Mia,” someone blurts, “you want to prank her or something? She could be fun to mess with.”
Not on my watch. They don’t know I’m an elite spy.

To my surprise, Mia interjects. “No, no,” she says, “I was thinking of that but I realized how crazy the school goes when kids like that get bullied,” she does air quotes around the word ‘bullied,’ “so I’m warning you not to try anything with her.”

WENDLER MIDDLE SCHOOL SCHOOLYARD, ANCHORAGE, ALASKA 

SEPTEMBER 4TH, 2020

12:15 P.M.

I sit down beside the dumpster in the schoolyard to eat my lunch and read Nancy Drew. It reeks over here but I feel too awkward asking people to sit with them, so I chose a spot with no people around. 

Shockingly, I see someone strutting towards me. On closer look, I notice that it’s Mia, the girl in that big group of kids that I saw at break today. 

She sits down right next to me and for a while, it’s silent. Admittedly, I just wish she would leave me alone.

“What are you into?” she squeals. I notice her voice is unnaturally high pitched. It’s much higher than it was when she was talking to that big group of kids before.

“Uh… spies.”
“Whoa! That’s so cool! I used to love spying. I spied on my sister all. the. time.” 

“Yeah.”

“Do you play any sports?” she chirps, “I play volleyball, tennis and soccer.” 

“I ski sometimes.”
“Wow! I always wished I could ski. That’s so cool, Chloe!”

I go back to reading my book and repetitively tapping my hand lightly on the scorching hot cement. 

After awkwardly listening to our silence amongst the schoolyard’s noise, Mia stands and saunters away.

To teachers, it may seem like Mia was being nice to me. Mia probably thought that she was being nice to me.

I do not enjoy being talked to like I’m a baby.

WENDLER MIDDLE SCHOOL SCHOOLYARD, ANCHORAGE, ALASKA

OCTOBER 8, 2020

12:36 P.M.

It’s been over a month since the first day of school and no one has spoken to me except for Mia. I want to make friends, but everyone assumes that I’m happy being alone. So, I have been eating lunch alone every day, except on the occasion that Mia comes to talk to me.

Today, I’ve just finished my lunch and I’m spying on people around the schoolyard. I spot Mia’s group and instantly trek across the schoolyard in order to silently eavesdrop on their conversation. When Mia sees me coming, her voice immediately drops below a whisper. 

“I know right. Chloe literally just stared at the wall the whole lesson. I had, like, no clue what to do.”

“I know,” someone adds, “I wonder what her marks are like. I mean, like, she never listens. She just stares at the wall the whole class.”
“It’s so creepy,” Mia giggles, “she either stares at the wall or repetitively stacks something.”
“What a weirdo.” 

“I’ve been nice to her since she got here. Just to make sure the teachers don’t, like, think I’m doing anything wrong.”

I feel anger surge through me. My whole body is shaking in fury as I run closer to the swarm of kids huddled around their leader. I don’t know what I’m going to do. 

When I arrive, I go with my gut instinct. I haven’t planned anything out. 

I shove through the crowd. Kids gawk at me and gasp. Everything I see is a fiery shade of orangey-red. Suddenly, I see Mia, standing frightened in the middle of the crowd. My heart is racing. Mia is towering over me, but I want to make her feel small. Before my brain can object, my hand is in a fist and flying towards Mia’s face. All of a sudden, hot red liquid is pouring out of her nose. Blood.

But I keep going anyway. I punch and kick her until her whole face is bleeding and her leg is turning purple. She cowers away and positions herself in a squat. She has recoiled in defeat. She has surrendered. I have not.

The whole schoolyard has gone silent. Kids are staring and pointing at us. Everyone starts to quietly whisper among themselves as they watch.

I feel a hand touch my shoulder and I lash out violently at whoever is standing behind me. When I refocus my eyes, I notice that it’s Mrs. Haymen. She forcefully drags me inside. I’m screaming the whole way.

WENDLER MIDDLE SCHOOL COUNCILLOR’S OFFICE

OCTOBER 8TH, 2020

1:17 P.M.

A waft of lavender and rosemary hits me as I step inside the councillor’s room. The lady inside introduces herself as Mrs. Michaels but asks me to call her Mariah. She looks like she’s in her early twenties.

“So, do you mind telling me why you’re in here, Chloe?”

She already knows why I’m here. I listened to Mrs. Haymen explain to her over the span of ten minutes. If this lady already knows why I’m here, she doesn’t need to hear it again.

I stay silent and rock back and forth on my seat.

Neither of us speak for a few minutes, until she says, “Can you tell me why you would want to do that, Chloe?”
Silence. I continue to rock back and forth on my chair. Every time I lean forward I can hear the floorboard creak below me.

Back… forth… creeeak… back… forth…. creeeak

We sit in silence for a few more minutes until we hear a knock. Mrs. Haymen tells me my mom is here to pick me up.

I have decided that I hate the school counsellor. 

WENDLER MIDDLE SCHOOL COUNCILLOR’S OFFICE

OCTOBER 12TH, 2020

2:30 P.M.

I have been pulled out of math class to visit Mariah again today. I am unsure about what will happen this time. I don’t know what we are going to speak about. The last thing I want to talk about is what happened with Mia and I.

When I walk inside I see a variety of different paints spread out on the table. There is a huge white canvas on the floor that is about the size of Mariah’s desk. 

“Hi, Chloe. Today we are going to try something different. Lots of students I see like to paint while we are talking.”

“OK.” I say. “Can I..?”

“Go ahead,” she says. 

I pick up pink and lime green paint and a paintbrush and without giving it much thought, I start spreading the paint around the canvas in thick layers. I’m not trying to paint anything specific, just spreading the paint around the canvas without a purpose.

We sit in silence for a few minutes as I paint. 

My mouth starts moving without getting consent from my brain. “I was really angry.”

“I’m sure you were,” she says.

I keep painting, “she thought she was being nice to me at first. She’d talk to me at lunch. About what I liked to do. But I secretly wanted her to leave me alone.”

“Why do you think she talked to you?”
“I know why. She didn’t want anyone to think she would do anything wrong. She wanted everyone to think she was really nice. But she wasn’t.”
“What was wrong about her talking to you?”
“She spoke to me like I was a baby.”

We chat about Mia for a while longer. Mariah makes me understand that I don’t need to love Mia, but that I should not have been so violent. 

I think I like the school counsellor now.

WENDLER MIDDLE SCHOOL ROOM 36

OCTOBER 14TH, 2020

9:00 A.M.

During homeroom today, I see Mia hobble into the classroom looking almost unrecognizable. Her face is completely bandaged as are her legs, and she is walking on grey crutches. This is her first day back at school since the incident, and everyone is surrounding her like a swarm of wasps. 

The talk that I had with the school councellor has made me realize that I don’t need to become best friends with Mia, but that maybe I need to apologize. Apprehensively, I plod over to the crowd where she is standing. Her facial expression changes and she begins to look fearful as soon as she sees me. I don’t blame her. I would do the same thing after someone had attacked me. 

“I’m sorry,” I say. She doesn’t respond right away.

“It’s going to take me a while to accept that apology, Chloe.”

“That’s OK,” I whisper to myself. 

WENDLER MIDDLE SCHOOL ROOM 36

OCTOBER 15TH, 2020

9:22 A.M.

Ms. Courier (my humanities teacher) announces that we are starting a new project about different countries around the world that we will work on in pairs. When I hear this, I immediately fly into a panic. Who will I work with?

“I will be picking your partners,” Ms. Courier announces. While the rest of my class groans, I silently cheer because I won’t have to worry about finding someone to work with.

Ms. Courier opens a new tab on the smartboard and displays the list of pairs.

Crossing my fingers that I’m not with Mia, I scan the list. When I see who my partner is, I have to admit that I don’t really know who she is. I’ve seen her before, but I haven’t really heard her talk too much. I’ve seen her with Mia’s group, so I think that might be a bad sign. But, I think to myself, at least it’s not Mia herself. 

She walks over to me and introduces herself as if I didn’t just read her name on the board. “Hi. My name is Sara.”

We get started on our project. We decide we are going to study Spain because we have both been there and want to know more about their culture.

So far, Sara has treated me normally. She hasn’t spoken to me like I am way younger than I actually am, which I am really happy about.  We are off to a good start.

WENDLER MIDDLE SCHOOL ROOM 36

OCTOBER 16TH, 2020

1:55 P.M.

At the very beginning of humanities class today, Ms. Courier announces that we will have more time to work on our projects in partners. Sara comes up to me hesitantly, clutching a tiny slip of paper in her hand. She hands it to me reluctantly and shrugs. Written on it is a ten digit combination of numbers that make up her phone number. “I thought you might want to have my number. You know, for the project.”

“OK. Do you want mine?”
“Sure.”
I slowly recite my phone number and she copies it down onto the back of her left hand in metallic purple ink. 

I have to confess that we did not really work on the project for most of class. At first, we were doing some work. I had started typing up the essay portion of the project and she was researching pictures online. I guess she had been scrolling for a really long time, because eventually she came across this funny photo of a camel smiling, with all of his bottom and top teeth showing. She showed me and we both start laughing hysterically and trying to make ourselves look like the camel in the photo. We spend the rest of the class searching up photos of camels on Google. We even found a camel dressed up as a spy, which I think I want to be my pet someday.

I think that I really like Sara.

CHLOE ANDERSON’S HEADQUARTERS

OCTOBER 16TH, 2020

6:17 P.M.

I’m lying in my bed reading Nancy Drew when I feel my phone vibrating against my leg. I know that it’s either my grandma, my parents or Sara because they are the only people in my contacts.

I’m surprised to see SARA MILLER light up the screen in bold white letters. I click on the message to see what she’s sent me: 

Hi.

This is my first time responding to a text from someone my age, so I take quite a while to pick a response. Eventually, I type:

Hi. 

A gray thought bubble appears to show that she is responding. I’m nervous to find out what she is going to say, but once she sends her message, I’m surprised to see what she has written. 

Do you want to go for ice cream on saturday? Its going to be +17 or something. We could meet at wild scoops

I’m scared to respond because I don’t know what to say. Eventually, I work up the confidence to say:

Sure. i would like to.

Sara responds with

Ok. 🙂

Maybe grade seven won’t be so bad after all. 

429 E STREET, ANCHORAGE

OCTOBER 17TH, 2020

3:14 P.M.

I’m walking down the street on a beautiful, sunny day while gripping a dripping ice cream cone. I’ve never had this sort of happy feeling before. I feel calm and relaxed, and for once I’m not worried about Mia or anything else happening at school. I’m focused on the moment that’s happening right now and nothing else. 

I finally have a real friend that I can talk to about anything I want. She is someone who will listen to me talk about spies until I lose my voice and she won’t get bored or I act like I’m way younger or dumber than her. We can do silly things like search up pictures of camels on the internet and try to impersonate them and laugh at school. We can have ice cream together on weekends and do homework together over FaceTime on school nights. We can make eye contact in gym class to say that we will be on each other’s team and high five when we walk by each other in the hallway.

I know this friendship has just begun, but it feels like we have known each other forever. I hope this will never end.

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